AFC North - Cleveland Browns
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Round 2 – Cornerback, Greedy Williams, LSU
Round 3 – Linebacker, Sione Takitaki, BYU
Having sent their first-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft to the New York Giants as part of a trade for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns would not make a pick until the middle of round two. But with LSU cornerback Greedy Williams rated by some experts as one of the best prospects at his position coming out of college, Cleveland still landed a potential first-round talent on day two. When paired with 2018 top draft pick Denzel Ward, Williams should give the Browns one of the league’s more talented young cornerback duos.
In contrast, third-round selection Sione Takitaki might have been taken somewhat higher than projected having serving multiple suspension while at college. Commended by scouts for his speed and physicality, Takitaki will likely need time to develop before assuming a starting role. It should be expected that his rookie season will feature more playing on special teams than anything else.
Of all the moves that have occurred this offseason, there were perhaps none more surprising than the trade of Odell Beckham Jr. to Cleveland. Arguably one of the most talent wide receivers in the league, the former Giant is the first real star talent the Browns have had on offense this century.
The addition of defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson via free agency and Olivier Vernon as part of the Beckham trade should give them one of the more dominant defensive fronts next to the emerging Myles Garrett.
The depth signing of Demetrius Harris at tight end should be a suitable replacement for Darren Fells, but the addition of offensive linemen Eric Kush and Kendall Lamm was not really enough to make up for the loss of veteran guard Kevin Zeitler.
2017 first-round draft pick Jabrill Peppers is another name who finds himself with the Giants having been used as collateral in the Beckham deal after an uninspiring second season in Cleveland. He could be replaced by safety Morgan Burnett who was sufficiently disappointing during his debut year with the Pittsburgh Steelers that they released him just one year into a three-year deal or by former Kansas City safety Eric Murray, acquired via trade in return for defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.
Once he has served an eight-game suspension resulting from a physical altercation with a woman at a hotel, free agent signing Kareem Hunt may yet prove to be a significant contributor over the second half of the season.
As previously noted, the arrival of Beckham represents the biggest star name the team has had on offense since the city was granted an expansion franchise in 1995. Lined up opposite wide receiver Jarvis Landry, the Browns now have two top talents to help developing quarterback Baker Mayfield. Running back Nick Chubb is another one to watch on offense following an impressive rookie debut.
No one on the defensive side of the ball has the quite the reputation of OBJ, leaguewide recognition of some of their counterparts on offense, both Garrett and Ward look like they will be joining the ranks of the elite in the coming years.
If the bookmakers and football experts are to be believed, the Browns will record their first winning season since 2007 this year, while also claiming their first division title since 1989. However, for those who pay regular attention to the preseason chatter, this is a familiar tale many have heard ad nauseum for decades.
There can be little question that Cleveland has made significant improvements on offense over the past few seasons and appear to be building a solid defense, but the hype suggesting the Browns as a dark horse option for Super Bowl glory is perhaps a tad overzealous. Considering the personnel lost by perennial division favorites the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens this offseason, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Cleveland’s chances of winning the division.
It is perhaps worth noting the relative inexperience of rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens, a man who had never been in charge of a high school team, let alone a college team, before being promoted to the top job with the Browns. Prior to arriving in Cleveland, the limit of his experience was as a position coach, his first stint as an offensive coordinator coming last year. The challenge of managing Beckham in New York was too much for the Giants and it will be interesting to see how the rookie head coach manages the task. Should the team get off to a slow start in 2019, things could easily unravel quickly in Cleveland. The Browns will also be hoping that Mayfield can avoid the sophomore slump that has afflicted several young quarterbacks over the years.
If both the Steelers and the Ravens suffer a down year, Cleveland are finally well placed to take advantage. Much will depend upon the continued development of several key young starters and how quickly the offseason signings can adjust to their new team, but it would seem that the pieces are finally in place for the Browns to at least record a winning season.
Oddschecker spokesperson Pete Watt: "How times have changed. It wasn’t long ago when the Browns were nothing but a punchline but thanks to shrewd moves drafting and some bold personnel moves they’re now one of the most fancied teams in the league.
"Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry have a swagger that is unrivalled in the NFL and with Njoku, Chubb and, at some point, Hunt, mixed in - they’re flat out dangerous.”
Based on the 2018 record of their opponents, the Browns will theoretically have the 23rd easiest schedule in the league in 2019. They will face teams that accumulated a combined record of 123-131-2 last season for a winning percentage of .484.
Divisional matchups with the Steelers and Ravens will still be tough, regardless of their offseason losses, as will games against the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, but the rest of the schedule includes some very winnable games. Opening the season with a home matchup against the Tennessee Titans before heading to New York for a clash with the Jets is a great way to start the year.